Dr. Raymond S. Schmidgall, Dr. Chekitan S. Dev, Dr. Bonnie Knutson and Mr. Fred Kleisner

(From left) Dr. Raymond S. Schmidgall, Dr. Chekitan S. Dev, Dr. Bonnie Knutson and Mr. Fred Kleisner

For its 25th anniversary, the Hilton Lecture Series in the School of Hospitality Business at MSU on September 18 and 19 revisited a topic explored at its inauguration: globalization in the hospitality industry.

Each year, the same topic is addressed by an industry expert and by an academic expert, and this year’s industry representative was Alumnus Fred Kleisner (BA Hospitality Business ’66), independent director of publicly held companies including Kindred Healthcare and Apollo Residential Mortgage, as well as Caesars Entertainment. The academic representative was Dr. Chekitan S. Dev, associate professor of strategic marketing and brand management in the School of Hotel Administration at Cornell University.

“It would be hard to overstate Mr. Kleisner’s influence on our industry,” says Hilton Hotels Professor of Hospitality Financial Management Ray Schmidgall, who hosts the lecture series each year. Indeed, Fred has successfully led in every sector of the industry for 40 years. His experience is unparalleled, ranging from one of the original Holiday Inns to individual world-class hotels and resorts, to worldwide branded hospitality companies.

Just a sampling of Mr. Kleisner’s responsibilities over the years: CEO of Morgans Hotel Group; chairman, CEO, and director of Hard Rock Holdings, LLC and of Wyndham International. He has been president and COO, The Americas, for Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. and president and CEO of Westin Hotels & Resorts. For Interstate Hotels & Resorts, he served as group president, operations, and for Sheraton he was senior vice president of operations, North America Division, East. And for over 16 years, he served as a general manager and vice president and managing director with Hilton Hotels Corporation.

Mr. Kleisner is the recipient of numerous awards and honors. An active and generous alumnus of the School, he was inducted in the School’s Alumni Association Hall of Fame in 1998 and was its Industry Leader of the Year in 2004. He serves on The School’s Real Estate Investment Management Advisory Council. His most important MSU connection, however, has to be meeting his wife of 48 years, Johnna, on campus while they attended college. Together they have four children and seven grandchildren and live on Bainbridge Island, WA.

Speaking on Thursday, September 18 to faculty members and graduate and undergraduate students, Mr. Kleisner urged students to “take a risk and accept the possibility of failure.” At the age of 26, he took over as general manager of the Albuquerque Hilton, a property that “hadn’t made a dime in 14 years,” but which he helped make profitable in three months. He was quickly moved to a Hilton in Houston with over 1,000 rooms.

Mr. Kleisner reminded the audience that good service is knowing your customers and learning their culture. In fact, he said, “globalization is about cultural pluralism.” Quoting Thomas Friedman, he said that “glocal” is thinking globally but acting locally. “To think globally,” Mr. Kleisner said, “respect others and their culture, and put aside arrogance.”

Standardization can be an economic success, according to Mr. Kleisner, but an “emotional failure.”  Make sure each hotel has a story to tell, an ethos, a feeling that matches place and location,” he said. Finally, he noted that “it is a mistake to think that as countries modernize, they Westernize.”

Dr. Dev is a leading authority on strategic marketing and brand management. His award-winning research has been published in several peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Marketing and Harvard Business Review. He has won all major hospitality research awards, including the 2002 John Wiley & Sons award for lifetime contribution to hospitality and tourism research. In addition, Dr. Dev has received several teaching excellence awards.

A former corporate executive with Oberoi Hotels & Resorts, he has served corporate, government, education, advisory, and private equity clients in over 35 countries as a consultant, seminar leader, and expert witness. These include Accor, Atlantis Paradise Island Bahamas, Breeden Capital Partners, Chandris Greece, Crystal Cruise Lines, Disney, Expedia, ExpGourmand Chile, eHow Technologies China, Four Seasons Mumbai, French Culinary Institute, Grupo Posadas Mexico, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Horwath Austria, and many, many more.

In 2009, Dr. Dev was selected as one of the “Top 25 Most Extraordinary Minds in Sales and Marketing” by the Hospitality Sales and Marketing Association International (HSMAI). A sought-after expert on hospitality and travel trends, he has been interviewed by Time, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The International Herald Tribune, NBC Nightly News, and National Public Radio.

Addressing faculty members and graduate students on Friday, Dr. Dev reported on global hospitality branding research. Using business experience, case studies, and empirical research, he explored the definition of a brand’s “competitive set,” and asked whether this changed over time. He discussed the relationship between investments in brand standards and performance and how to monitor brand performance. He investigated whether brand satisfaction drives brand performance, and whether brand extensions and brand loyalty are related. He looked at which has a higher payoff: customer orientation or competition orientation. And he also discussed his research on whether brands that “do good” also do well.

“Both of our speakers illuminated an important topic,” says Dr. Schmidgall. “Fred is an important alumnus who has helped define our industry for many years. We appreciate his willingness to return to campus to share his wisdom. Dr. Dev also provides inspiration and knowledge to those of us who strive to make research findings beneficial in a practical way to the industry.”

Hilton Lecture Series began in 1991, and each year since then a different topic has been explored. Over 40 companies and 17 universities have been represented from around the globe. View a historical listing of the topics discussed at the Hilton Lecture Series.